Manic Monday: Is 'sudden death' OT too sudden?

Published Mar. 22, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

After 48 hours at the NFL owners meetings, I’m betting that a controversial new rules proposal will head into overtime.

The league is set to vote Wednesday upon a change to its overtime format for the postseason. The new system would guarantee one possession to the club that loses the overtime coin toss provided it doesn’t surrender a touchdown on the first series. If the teams remain tied after one possession apiece, the game would continue under a “sudden death” format until there is a score.

Twenty-four of the NFL’s 32 franchises (75 percent) must approve the measure for passage. There also is the option of tabling the vote until the May owners meetings in Dallas.

That’s what I expect to happen.

I’ve personally talked with members/owners of seven NFL teams about the new overtime rule, and only two (Atlanta and Houston) supported the change. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh seem likely to vote against it, while New Orleans, Seattle and Green Bay were undecided.

Media reports also indicate that the New York Jets are leaning against any changes, Minneapolis and Detroit are on the fence while Indianapolis, New England and the New York Giants would vote for the measure.

Giants co-owner John Mara told Newsday that he didn’t think the new overtime format currently had enough support to pass. That’s partially because NFL owners rarely make radical rules changes without extensive thought and debate among themselves and internally within their own franchises. By tabling the vote until May, the concept will be kept alive while giving teams extra time to mull a proposal that wasn’t announced publicly until last Wednesday.

The competition committee asserts a modification is needed because too many contests are being decided on the first overtime series. In regular season games between 1974 (when the current OT format was adopted) and 1993, 25.4 percent of the teams that won the coin toss drove for the game-winning score. That number jumped to 34.4 percent between 1994 and 2009. The competition committee believes the increase stems from improved field-goal kicking and better starting field position after the kickoff.

The league is also mindful of the controversy that would erupt if its biggest game ended in a one-possession fashion. Said Houston Texans general manager and competition committee member Rick Smith: “It would be a shame if we had a Super Bowl that went to overtime, a team loses the toss, gives up two plays and the other team kicks a 50-yard field goal. That’s what we want to look at. The stats are suggesting a change is necessary.”

The recent NFC championship matchup between New Orleans and Minnesota didn’t finish so dramatically, as the Saints drove 39 yards on 10 plays to set up Garrett Hartley’s game-winning 40-yard field goal. But had the Vikings called “tails” instead of “heads,” Minnesota could very well have headed to Super Bowl XLIV. The day after the game, New Orleans safety Darren Sharper admitted he and several defensive teammates began to cramp while the Saints offense was on the field. Considering how effectively Minnesota moved the football in regulation, it isn’t hard to picture Brett Favre leading the Vikings into position for a game-winning score just like Drew Brees did with the Saints.

Favre may have gotten that chance under the proposed system. New Orleans attempted the Hartley field goal after Brees threw an incompletion on third-and-three from the Minnesota 22-yard line. Because the Vikings would be guaranteed a possession even if Hartley made the kick, Saints coach Sean Peyton would have needed to weigh going for it on fourth down or risk that his fatigued defense could stop Minnesota from reaching the end zone.

Instead, New Orleans won while Favre stood helplessly on the sideline. Some NFL executives feel this type of scenario must change.

“To be left to a coin flip I’ve found to be very uncomfortable,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “The opportunity for both teams to have a possession is the most fair form. This (proposal) is a chance to play football in overtime. That’s what’s really attractive to me.”

Critics, though, find plenty that is unattractive with the suggested format. Seattle general manager John Schneider doesn’t think change is needed because “the system works now. You win the toss. If you get stopped, you get stopped.”

Schneider saw that scenario unfold three different times with Green Bay while working in the Packers’ front office. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby returned an Aaron Rodgers fumble for a touchdown in last season’s NFC playoffs. The Giants parlayed a Favre interception into an overtime field goal during the 2007 NFC title game. And then there was the 2003 playoff game between Green Bay and Seattle when the Seahawks won the toss and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told the referee, “We want the ball and we’re going to score.” Not quite. Packers cornerback Al Harris scored on a Hasselbeck interception.

One general manager said he was concerned about adding another layer of decision-making for head coaches who already face enough public pressure to win. The GM also believes there isn’t a public outcry for amending overtime.

“I hear more complaints about the instant replay system,” he said. “That’s something that comes into play during every game. Overtime doesn’t.”

The possibility of extended overtime has raised player-safety concerns. Plus, one owner said he didn’t like having rules for the regular season that change for the playoffs.

“There will always be some injustice in any system,” he said.

True enough. But debate over the proposed OT structure is a healthy exercise.

“I’m curious how it’s going to be managed and administered,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m curious to hear the arguments pro and con. I’m kind of on the fence about it.”

It wouldn’t hurt for any undecided club to sit there until May before casting a ballot because of this topic’s complexity and the fact that there’s plenty of time before the 2010 season begins.

Cause and Effect

The topic: The NFL competition committee’s decision to move umpires into the offensive backfield. The move will go into effect this season unless there is “significant objection” from team owners when the committee’s report is presented, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail.

The cause: Safety concerns and a desire to avoid having umpires used as picks on passing plays prompted the change. The umpire is currently positioned 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage between the defensive line and linebackers. At the snap, he charges forward to read the action.

Among the umpire’s responsibilities is monitoring line play for holding and other illegal tactics. That was becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous on passing plays when umpires were being used as human shields by receivers on crossing routes. Defensive players also have admitted they would hide behind the umpire in hopes of surprising an unsuspected receiver with a big hit.

“If you’re running this West Coast-style offense with tight ends or slots going across the middle of the field, (picks) are going to happen,” outgoing NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira told during a December interview. "Clubs and players have admitted they try to use the official to rub the defender. Sometimes, it works for them and sometimes it works against them.

"No matter – it’s always our guy who’s getting hit. That’s obviously a concern of mine. We have notified clubs that players need to do everything within their power to avoid the official. If the player sees the official there, they’ve got to try and work around him. If they do have a collision, try to hold up and hold them up. It’s dangerous.”

Pereira said umpires were taking such a beating from being run into by players, including on special teams, that the league discussed possibility equipping them with protective head gear and/or flak jackets. “You basically have a guy in street clothes getting run over by people who are bigger, faster and equipped (with pads),” Pereira said. “The odds aren’t in favor of the umpire in that situation. They’re tough guys and like it in there. I appreciate that. But I think we have to take some steps to make it safer for them.”

The effect: While the NFL has good intentions, the move isn’t popular with the officials themselves. Pereira said he asked every umpire last year for their thoughts on being repositioned from the defensive side of the football.

“I haven’t had any of them that have come back and said they want to go there,” Pereira said. “They’d have to be back as deep as the referee would be, so they’d have to run all the way in every play. If you look at how umpires are built (physically), I’m not quite sure stamina is their forte. Running back and forth might be a little difficult.”

The league used umpires in the offensive backfield during the 2001 preseason but never adopted the change for the regular season.

The Buzz

Save me a seat on the Cleveland Browns bandwagon. I truly believe this franchise is finally on stable footing. Besides the addition of new team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert Jr., the Browns added two top executives (vice president/business operations Bryan Wiedmeier and contract negotiator Matt Thomas) who were with Miami’s front office. All four figures are among the most respected in the NFL at their respective jobs. Second-year head coach Eric Mangini now has the support staff to get Cleveland back on track ...

Here’s an educated guess that the Browns have interest in drafting University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll joined Holmgren, Heckert and Mangini at last Wednesday for Tebow’s pro day. Considering the Browns don’t have a pressing need at wide receiver, tight end or center, I doubt Daboll trekked to Gainesville to scout other top UF prospects like WR Riley Cooper, TE Aaron Hernandez or C Maurkice Pouncey. While recently adding Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace to its roster, Cleveland still needs a quarterback to develop for the future.

On a personal note, I’m hoping the Browns draft Tebow so I can collect on a $5 wager placed in January with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and some other reporters about where he will land ...

One team I doubt has any interest in Tebow is the New York Giants. Head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese walked off the field before Tebow had finished his workout.

Week in Review

Big winner: Seattle quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Traded from San Diego for a 2011 third-round pick and swap of 2010 second-round selections, Whitehurst should finally get the chance to play after not attempting a pass in four NFL seasons. Whitehurst also received a two-year, $8 million contract with another $2 million available through incentives. Seattle raised eyebrows by making such a heavy investment in an unproven product, especially considering Whitehurst had a career 52.8 preseason completion percentage when most third-string quarterbacks should be posting a much higher number against reserve defenders.

The Seahawks, though, feel they’ve landed a hidden gem who received four years of tutelage under Chargers coach Norv Turner (a respected QB guru) and starter Philip Rivers. An NFL source said the Seahawks think Whitehurst would have played earlier if not stuck behind trusted Chargers backup Billy Volek. Seattle also believes Whitehurst would have gotten selected earlier than the third round of the 2006 draft if not for a difficult senior year at Clemson. Whitehurst was receiving pain-killing injections for a shoulder injury while also trying to master a new offense after previously excelling in a spread system.

In a year with no salary cap and shortage of free-agent QB options, I have no problem with what is a relatively low-risk, short-term gamble by the Seahawks. Whitehurst’s arrival also doesn’t mean Seattle is out of the running to draft one of the top college prospects. The Seahawks will still take a long look at Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy in upcoming pro-day workouts.

Big loser: San Francisco. There still isn’t a clear-cut explanation on why general manager Scot McCloughan left the franchise last week for what some media reports have described as an “extended leave of absence.” Whatever the reason, there couldn’t be a worse time for the 49ers to lose the executive that was heading the team’s draft efforts.

Under-the-radar move: Ex-Seattle linebacker Lance Laury signing a one-year contract with the Jets. New York needed a special-teams ace to help replace the departed Wallace Wright (Carolina) and unsigned Larry Izzo, who missed last season with a spine injury. Laury – who notched 63 special-teams tackles in the past four seasons – fits the bill. He also will get snaps as a backup inside linebacker in New York’s 3-4 defense.


Highlights from this week's calendar

Monday through Wednesday (March 22-24): NFL owners meetings in Orlando. Besides a proposed postseason OT change, NFL owners also will vote upon other rule changes that include player-safety issues and the giant scoreboard hanging at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Wednesday (March 24): The deadline for New Orleans to match the one-year, $1.7 million offer sheet signed by running back Mike Bell with Philadelphia. Don’t expect the Saints to bite. After a strong start last season briefly derailed by injury, Bell was gradually phased out of the team’s RB rotation. By tendering a one-year, $1.7 million contract with $500,000 guaranteed and a no-trade clause, the Eagles are banking on the 6-foot, 225-pound Bell being a quality short-yardage option and backup to LeSean McCoy. I think the Eagles overpaid, but that might have been necessary to keep Bell from signing an offer sheet elsewhere.

Friday (March 26): Boise State’s pro day, where Kyle Wilson will try to position himself as the draft’s No. 2 cornerback prospect behind Florida’s Joe Haden.

Alex Marvez will appear with co-host Vic Carucci from 8 to 11 p.m. E.S.T. Monday and Tuesday on Sirius NFL Radio. He also will provide daily updates from the owner’s meetings at 2:30 p.m. E.S.T. on Sirius.